Possible political effects of the pause in global warming
Summary: Global warming has paused since roughly 1998 (see links in section 10). Part one looked at climate scientists’ estimates of when the pause in global warming will end, with a range from ending now through ending a decade or so in the future. Today we discuss the political consequences of the pause.
This post is about the politics of the pause. Citations to scientist’s analysis of the pause appears in the previous post, and earlier posts appearing in section 4c below.
“How then may we devise one of those needful falsehoods … a noble lie to deceive the rulers and the rest of the city?”
— From Plato’s The Republic, book 3
- Recap of the play so far
- What comes next?
- Some things to remember about global warming!
- For More Information
- The sands are flowing
(1) Recap of the play so far
Global warming paused after the powerful El Nino in 1998. In response, climate activists increased the intensity of their claims about the speed and magnitude of global warming — vehemently denouncing as deniers anyone, even eminent climate scientists, who pointed out the pause. This personalized and poisoned the debate. Conservatives eagerly reciprocated, as this moved the debate away from science onto familiar ground).
As the pause continued, activists’ emphasis shifted from the temperature rise to “extreme climate changes” — attributing even quite normal phenomena to global warming. The IPCC was brushed aside as too conservative. Climate scientists pushed back these claims (see the links in section 4e, plus the IPCC’s SREX and “Monitoring and Understanding Changes in Heat Waves, Cold Waves, Floods & Droughts in the US“, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, June 2013).
These tactics have failed. Public action to prevent or mitigate climate change is almost zero in the emerging nations, and insufficient in the developing nations to drive policy action. That’s unfortunate, as climate science research remains grossly underfunded — and many nations (eg, USA) have inadequately prepared for even normal climate events (as NYC learned from Sandy).
(2) What comes next?
Worse might lie ahead. Yesterday’s post showed that climate scientists remain uncertain about the various causes of the pause, and their relative weight. This makes reliable forecasts difficult. If the pause ends soon, rising temperatures and the resulting climate effects will revitalize the public policy debate. But what if the pause continues for years? Or another decade? Or longer?
We can guess about some likely results…
(a) Climate activists will be discredited, much as their repeated failed forecasts discredited peak oil activists (eg, The Oil Drum has shut down). I see this might be a good thing, as the hordes of single-issue activists have become like mad squirrels confusing vital public policy debates in America (the equivalent of drunken soccer louts crashing Congress).
(b) Public confidence in climate scientists, and perhaps even scientists, will be diminished. This would be very bad, weakening our confidence in one of the few reliable compasses we have to navigate the complex dangers of the 21st century.
(c) Also like peak oil, we will squander irreplaceable time. Not only does it seem likely we will do little to prepare during the pause (not even improving vital climate science programs), but our reaction to resumed warming will be slow — much as it took a decade for widespread recognition of the pause.
(d) Climate activists will use this time to continue their campaign of smears and intimidation (even of climate scientists), selective reporting of climate research, and exaggeration of current weather dynamics. This probably will fail, especially since the news media has become more aware of their responsibilities, but in cooperation with their mirror images on the Right it will in effect put sand in the public policy machinery.
The pause is a gift of that most valuable of commodities: time. Much depends on how we use this time. Let’s use it wisely.
(3) Some of the key things to remember about global warming!
While cheering for their faction of scientists, laypeople often lose sight of the big picture — the key elements for making public policy about this important issue.
- The work of the IPCC and the major science institutes are the best guides for information about these issues.
- The major global temperature measurement systems tell — broadly speaking — the same story since the 1970s: two decades of cooling, two of warming, followed by a pause.
- This is consistent with the larger firm conclusions of climate scientists: two centuries of warming, coming in pulses (ie, waves), with anthropogenic factors becoming the largest (not the only) driver since roughly 1950.
- There is a debate about the attribution (causes) of past warming — which probably varied over time — between natural drivers (eg, rebound from the Little Ice Age, solar influences) and anthropogenic drivers (eg, CO2, aerosols, land use changes). Other that that stated in #3, the IPCC’s reports make few claims about attribution of climate activity, as this remains actively debated in the literature.
- There is an even larger debate about climate forecasts, both the extent of future CO2 emissions and the net effects of the various natural and anthropogenic drivers.
For the past five years my recommendations have been the same:
- More funding for climate sciences. Many key aspects (eg, global temperature data collection and analysis) are grossly underfunded.
- Wider involvement of relevant experts in this debate. For example, geologists, statisticians and software engineers have been largely excluded — although their fields of knowledge are deeply involved.
For more about preparing:
- How can we save the world from climate change?, 2 January 2013
- Preparing for the future: should we be precautionary or proactionary?, 22 August 2013
(4) For More Information
(a) Reference Pages about climate on the FM sites:
- Important things to know about climate change
- My posts about climate change.
- Studies & reports
- The history of fears about the climate
(b) Another post about this problem:
- How can we save the world from climate change?, 2 January 2013
- Experts now run the world using their theories. What if they fail, and we lose confidence in them?, 21 June 2013
- Tell noble lies for America’s salvation!, 31 July 2013
(c) Other posts in this series about global warming:
- Still good news: global temperatures remain stable, at least for now., 14 October 2012 — Scientists analysis of the pause
- When did we start global warming? See the surprising answer., 18 October 2012
- The IPCC sees the pause in global warming!, 18 December 2012
- Lessons about global warming from Alaska, 9 January 2013
- Secrets about global warming that you must not know, least they ruin the narrative, 22 January 2013
- Hidden news about our weather in July: experts tell us what even well-informed people do not know., 8 August 2013
- The Elusive Absolute Surface Air Temperature (SAT), 18 August 2013
(d) Posts about climate forecasts:
- More about the forecast for flooded cities in the late 21st century
- Looking into the past for guidance about warnings of future climate apocalypses
- What can climate scientists tell about the drivers of future warming?
- What can climate scientists tell us about the drivers of future warming? – part two of two
- Checking up on past forecasts about climate change, a guide to the future
- An optimistic & successful (so far) forecast by an eminent climate scientist
(e) About extreme climate change:
- Run from the rising waves! (The latest climate catastrophe scare), 27 June 2012
- Ignorance and propaganda about extreme climate change, 10 July 2012
- A look behind the curtain at the news of extreme climate events in the US, 22 August 2012
- Hurricane Sandy asks when did weather become exceptional? (plus important info about US hurricanes), 28 October 2012
- Has global warming increased the frequency & virulence of extreme weather events?, 10 February 2013
- The Oklahoma tornadoes can teach us about our climate, and ourselves, 22 May 2013
- One of the most important questions we face: when will the pause in global warming end?, 25 August 2013
(5) No, not yet. But the sands are flowing